Human smuggling: always a criminal activity?

NEW RELEASES – “Human smuggling and trafficking are two of the fastest growing transnational criminal activities.”1 The incredibly long journeys that migrants have to go through are not only dangerous and in violation of fundamental human rights, but they also fuel the lucrative businesses of many international criminal organisations. Thus, this article will focus on the highly problematic issue of human smuggling and on the consequences it bears in nowadays society. However, it will also be pointed out that it’s not always clear what human smuggling is and that its conception can change depending on the perception of the criminal practice within society.

Anglais

Human smuggling and human trafficking

As much as the activities of human smuggling and trafficking can be considered as quite similar, there are a number of crucial factors that distinguish them. As David Kyle2 has pointed out, both human smuggling and trafficking involve the recruitment, movement, and delivery of migrants to a destination state. What differentiates the two is whether the migrants are willing participants or not: “traffickers enslave and exploit trafficked persons, while smuggled migrants have a consensual relationship with their smugglers and are free at the end of their journey.”3

Human smuggling is defined in the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air and Louise Shelley of the Migration Policy Institute specifically describes it as “the procurement, in order to obtain directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.”4 Currently, human smuggling is recognised as an international crime that involves the exploitation of human beings for economic benefits. Thus, smuggled individuals must pay for their transport, and so often come from more economically privileged backgrounds. “Of Pakistanis smuggled to the United Kingdom, for example, many have some amount of higher education but cannot find jobs commensurate with their skills at home.”5 Not only the price to pay to be conducted to another country is really high, but the routes undertaken by migrants are also extremely dangerous. For instance, the Guardian reported, Eritrean refugees smuggled across the Libyan border “die of thirst on route, or sometimes abandoned in the desert to die, in a trek that is often described as worse than even the sea crossing.”6

 


Problems and consequences of smuggling

The one of human smuggling is a practice that happens everywhere in the world; for instance, smuggling in Europe has been on the rise for several years due to work opportunities and perceived economic advantages. In particular, the Arab Spring had a remarkable impact on illegal immigration into Europe and smuggled and trafficked individuals work in many different sectors of the economy. “According to a 2012 UN study, 62 percent of victims in Europe and Central Asia are trafficked for sexual exploitation. As many as 29 percent of trafficked victims in Western and Central European countries are working in forced labor.”7

As the UNODC has pointed out, “the smuggling of migrants is a truly global concern, with a large number of countries affected by it as origin, transit or destination points.”8 Smuggled migrants are vulnerable people seeking for a better life or trying to stay alive and the delicate journeys they undergo are extremely difficult to assess. The large scale of the problem of human smuggling makes it a very difficult crime to understand in all its shades. In fact, it can be really problematic to clearly define whether a case of illegal migration has been facilitated by smugglers or, generally, to collect truthful data. Particularly, “information about the magnitude of the problem remains very limited.”9 Moreover, there is a definite lack of research on the issue that doesn’t facilitate the solution of the problem.

Corruption is another factor deeply connected to human smuggling. As Louise Shelley10 explains, travel agencies, border guards, customs officials, consular officers, and other diplomatic personnel must be bribed for smuggling to be successful. Moreover, “corruption reduces the quality of governance, and enables an activity that fuels violence against individual victims as well as increased anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe.”11 In addition to that, human smuggling also significantly impacts domestic policies in Europe: criminal organisations profiting from smuggling increase their activities and an increased number of illegal immigrants in European countries work without enjoying basic human rights.12

 


How to deal with this crime?

In light of what has been discussed above, it can be stated that the one of human smuggling is a particularly complex and delicate issue that needs to be understood in its entirety to be dealt with correctly. It has to be recognised that the smuggling of migrants and the activities related to it “cost many people their lives and generate billions of dollars in profit for criminals”13, fueling corruption and bribery and violating fundamental human rights. Moreover, criminal groups have formed incredibly widespread networks of collaborators in many countries. For instance, the French police discovered “through wiretaps that a sister of a French-based Balkan trafficker was operating a cell in Belgium.”14

However, what are the boundaries of defining a person as a human smuggler? How do we understand when a person is effectively abusing its position, taking advantage of vulnerable individuals, or trying to save others’ lives? The issue has recently become evident in the case of Cédric Herrou, a French farmer who has helped African migrants to cross the border from Italy and giving them shelter. As the Guardian reported, he has gone on trial for aiding illegal arrivals. Particularly, “Herrou is part of a network of citizens and activists who have resorted to semi-clandestine tactics in assisting migrants who are regularly removed by the police from trains crossing into France and sent back to Italy.”15 The question then is: can we define him as a human smuggler? On his behalf, Herrou said to the media: “If we have to break the law to help people, let’s do it! Our role is to help people overcome danger, and the danger is this border.”16 Thus, the debate is open: as much as we can’t ignore the criminal nature of the activity of human smuggling and its devastating effects on migrants’ lives, the problematic character of the activity itself can’t be equally avoided.

 

1 SHELLEY Louise (2014) “Human Smuggling and Trafficking into Europe: A Comparative Perspective”, Migration Policy Institute. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/human-smuggling-and-trafficking-...
2 KYLE David and KOSLOWSKI Rey (eds.) (2011) “Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives”, The John Hopkins University Press. Available at: https://books.google.ch/books?hl=fr&lr=&id=Uqzgr3ZIkL4C&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq...
3 SHELLEY, Op.Cit.
4Ibidem
5 Ibidem
6 TONDO Lorenzo and KINGSLEY Patrick (2016) “Alleged people-smuggling kingpin is extradited to Italy”, the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/jun/08/alleged-people-smuggling-kin...
7 SHELLEY, Op.Cit.
8 UNODC, “Transnational organised crime” Available at: https://www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/migrant-smuggling.html
9 International Organization of Migration (UN), “Human Trafficking: New Directions for Research.” Available at: https://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/microsites/IDM/w...
10 SHELLEY, Op.Cit.
11Ibidem
12Ibidem
13 UNODC, Op.Cit.
14 SHELLEY, Op.Cit.
15 Agence France-Presse (2016) “French farmer on trial for helping migrants across Italian border” the Guardian.  Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/04/french-farmer-cedric-herro...
16Ibidem

MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH 

 

Webography

Agence France-Presse (2016) “French farmer on trial for helping migrants across Italian border”, the Guardian.  Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/04/french-farmer-cedric-herro...
Global Migration Centre, The Graduate Institute of Geneva. Available at: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/global-mi...
International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion (IMSCOE). Available at: https://www.imiscoe.org/
International Organization of Migration (UN), “Human Trafficking: New Directions for Research.” Available at: https://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/microsites/IDM/w...
KYLE David and KOSLOWSKI Rey (eds.) (2011) “Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives”, The John Hopkins University Press. Available at: https://books.google.ch/books?hl=fr&lr=&id=Uqzgr3ZIkL4C&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq...
SHELLEY Louise (2014) “Human Smuggling and Trafficking into Europe: A Comparative Perspective”, Migration Policy Institute. Available at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/human-smuggling-and-trafficking-...
TONDO Lorenzo and KINGSLEY Patrick (2016) “Alleged people-smuggling kingpin is extradited to Italy”, the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/jun/08/alleged-people-smuggling-kin...
United Nations (2000) Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. Available at: https://www.unodc.org/documents/southeastasiaandpacific/2011/04/som-indo...
United Nations Multimedia (2016) “Refugees And Migrants: Far From Home”, 21st Century. Available at: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/21stcentury/asset/B508/B5088623491001/
UNODC, “Migrant Smuggling” Available at: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/fr/human-trafficking/smuggling-of-migrants.html
UNODC, “Transnational organised crime” Available at: https://www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/migrant-smuggling.html

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